Monday, November 17, 2014

Chaucer's Tale by Paul Strohm

book cover
Chaucer's Tale:
1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm

ISBN-13: 9780670026432
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult
Released: November 13, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A lively microbiography of Chaucer that tells the story of the tumultuous year that led to the creation of The Canterbury Tales.

In 1386, the middle-aged Chaucer was living in London, working as a mid-level bureaucrat and sometime poet. Chaucer was swept up in a series of events that left him jobless, a widower, and living isolated in the countryside of Kent without the close circle of friends with whom he had shared his poetry. At the loneliest time of his life, Chaucer made the revolutionary decision to write for a national audience, for posterity, and for fame.

Brought expertly to life by Paul Strohm, this is the eye-opening story of the birth one of the most celebrated literary creations of the English language.

My Review:
Chaucer's Tale is a biography about Chaucer with a focus on the events that led to his decision to write The Canterbury Tales. Not a lot of personal details are know about Chaucer. The author took what the records do say about him and then gave details about what life was like for a person in that position. He also described the politics that influenced Chaucer's life.

For example, we're told details about what life was like in London and how noisy and poorly-lighted his London gatehouse apartment would have been. We're told what the controller of the London wool customs did and what serving on a parliament would have been like so we get an idea of what his jobs were like. We're told what the literary scene was like--how poetry was usually written in certain ways and how it was read to a small audience rather than read in written form.

When the politics went bad, Chaucer lost his support structure and had to re-think his goals. He had to change his audience and writing style, which tapped into the social and technical changes that eventually brought him to fame.

The book was a quick, easy read. As I was more interested in the historical background of Chaucer's life than the man himself, I thoroughly enjoyed the details about the time period and the influences that prompted the creation of The Canterbury Tales. If you're looking for a lot of personal details about the man or a detailed critique of his writings, this may not be the book you're looking for.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Baby Care Book by Dr. Friedman, Dr. Saunders

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The Baby Care Book:
A Complete Guide from Birth to 12 Months Old by Dr. Jeremy Friedman
Dr. Norman Saunders

ISBN-13: 9780778801603
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose
Released: September 14th 2007

Source: Borrowed from library.

Book Description from Goodreads:
The Baby Care Book is a clear, thoughtful and objective guide that helps parents raise a newborn. The subject of parenting is often confusing. The great value of this book is that it empowers parents with knowledge and allows them to make personal choices for each circumstance and situation.

Both authors are leading experts from the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children. The Baby Care Book covers an extensive range of topics in clear, easy-to-understand language. Specially commissioned "real life" photographs throughout complement the text, providing additional instructions and information.

The chapters include: Getting Ready to Have Your Baby Your Baby's First Few Days Feeding Your Baby Your Baby's First Month Helping Your Baby to Sleep Your Baby's Months 2 and 3 Playing with Your Baby Your Baby's Months 4 to 6 Safety and Childproofing Your Baby's Months 7 to 12.

My Review:
The Baby Care Book is a book on baby care from prenatal to 12 months old. My my brother and his wife want to start their family. They asked my mom to be there when a baby is born, so she wanted to read up on the latest baby care information to make sure she remembered things correctly. I checked this book out of my library and gave it to her, and she gave me the following review of it:

"I was very impressed with this book. It covers everything you might have questions about and would be a good choice for first-time parents. It has good pictures--and many of them. It has a chart in the back for various illnesses and that chart directs you to the pages in the book that give more information. It's a good reference book for practical use. I recommended that [my brother and his wife] buy this book and read it."

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Moguls and Iron Men by James McCague

Moguls and Iron Men
by James McCague

Hardback: 394 pages
Publisher: Harper & Row Pub
Released: January 1, 1964

Source: Bought at a local book sale.

Book Description, Modified from Book Cover:
The construction of the first transcontinental railroad was a tremendous financial gamble and engineering marvel. This book tells the full story of the project from the earliest efforts of the brilliant engineer, Theodore Judah, to win private and government support for his dream, to the investigation of the Credit Mobilier after the track was laid in 1869, more than 10 years later. It describes how, after a Pacific Railroad bill was finally approved in 1862, the two rival companies, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific, drove toward each other battling terrain, weather, Indians, financial crises, and corruption.

My Review:
Moguls and Iron Men is a history about the building of the first transcontinental railroad. The author did a good job of showing the many factors that needed to come together to get the project started and how the building of the railroad changed the West. While an "engineering marvel," the author spent very little time and no real detail on the engineering feats. The focus was initially on the politics needed to get the project started and then on the race between the two railroads to lay their track faster.

Almost 50% of the book seemed to be about the politics and financial maneuvering needed to get the project started and completed. The rest was about what the press was saying about the railroad and using legends and reports to describe how the railroad was laid and what happened in and around these work camps. We are told how the work was done and the challenges (terrain, weather, Indians, financial) to getting the track laid. The story was a not a "heavy" read due to a lack of technical information and the focus on conflicts.

Overall, I'd been hoping for a more engineering and less financial history, but it was interesting and I learned a lot.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Make Comics Like The Pros by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente

book cover
Make Comics Like The Pros
by Greg Pak &
Fred Van Lente

ISBN-13: 9780385344630
Trade Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: January 1, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A step-by-step guide to all aspects of comic book creation--from conceptualization to early drafts to marketing and promotion--written by two of the industry's most seasoned and successful pros.

Do you want to break into the comics industry? There are many creative roles available--writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, editor, and more. Each creator serves a vital function in the production of sequential art at companies such as DC, Marvel, Image, and Valiant.

Veteran comics creators Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente take readers step by step through the comics creation process from idea to finished work, and along the way offer examples and insights from their own careers as well as their collaborators'. Not only that, but Pak and Van Lente also join forces with Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Colleen Coover to produce an original comic inside the book!

My Review:
Make Comics Like The Pros is a book on how to write (and otherwise create and sell) comic books and graphic novels. It's similar to Words for Pictures in that it talked about the importance of working well with all the other people involved in making a comic. This book gave more information on how to sell your own comic independently or through a publisher.

The authors talked about how to co-write comics and actually created a short comic, step-by-step, to show how it is done. For the art and editing parts, people that they have worked with described their job and gave some tips on how to do their job well. It focused more on comic books than graphic novels or webcomics, but a lot of the creation information also applied to those formats. I think this an excellent book for people wanting to understand how the comic industry currently works and to learn how to create a comic with others and sell it.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I Stand Corrected by Eden Collinsworth

This is another review done as a member of Amazon Vine, so I'm posting a description of the book with a direct link to my review on Amazon.

book cover
I Stand Corrected
by Eden Collinsworth

ISBN-13: 9780385538695
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Released: October 7, 2014

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A fascinating fusion of memoir, manners, and cultural history from a successful businesswoman well versed in the unique challenges of working in contemporary China.

During the course of a career that has, quite literarily, moved her around the world, no country has fascinated Eden Collinsworth more than China, where she has borne witness to its profound transformation. In I Stand Corrected, Collinsworth tells the entertaining and insightful story of the year she spent living among the Chinese while writing a book featuring advice on such topics as personal hygiene, the rules of the handshake, and making sense of foreigners. Scrutinizing etiquette, she explains Chinese practices and reveals much about our own Western culture. At the same time, I Stand Corrected is a wry reflection on the peripatetic career she led while single-handedly raising her son.

My Review: Link to my review on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bend Your Brain by Marbles Brain Store

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Bend Your Brain
by Marbles Brain Store

ISBN-13: 9780804140096
Trade Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Released: August 19, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
This first book from the team behind Marbles: The Brain Store offers puzzles and brain teasers to help enhance memory, build problem-solving skills, and reduce stress. They've designed these puzzles to keep your mind flexible and fit.

Arranged in five key brain categories—visual perception, word skills, critical thinking, coordination, and memory—Bend Your Brain offers a variety of puzzles ranging from mind-warming (easy) to mind-blowing (hard!):

· Connecting the dots? More like working your spatial-orientation skills.
· Identifying famous smiles? Flexing your visual memory.
· Taking a closer look at your keyboard? Coding, storing, and retrieving.
· Word-doku? Summoning cognitive abilities like appraisal, inference, impulse control, and evaluation.
· Word scrambles? Tapping your brain’s association areas.

My Review:
Bend Your Brain is a puzzle book containing 151 puzzles to give your brain a workout. The puzzles were divided into 5 sections, and each section was focused on exercising a certain part of the brain. The first page briefly described what was going to be exercised in that section, and there was some brain trivia mixed throughout the book. One part had you physically doing things, like standing in front of a mirror and using your body to make letters. Some puzzles were intended to be cut out of the book and folded. There were word finds, mazes, crosswords, connect the dots, and variations on many other puzzle types.

It's intended for people familiar with puzzle books. The instructions were often too vague if you'd never encountered the puzzle type before. For example, the instructions said that you should do their Word-doku puzzle like a Sudoku puzzle. I've never done a Sudoku puzzle so had no idea of what to do.

The book seemed aimed at the older set. Some logos that they assume you're familiar with were not recognized by four people about 40 years old but were recognized by a couple that was in their late 60s. You'll do best at these puzzles if you watch a lot of television and know a lot of trivia. Incidentally, they also use a lot of "common phrases" that someone who didn't grow up in America wouldn't know.

I don't normally do puzzle books, but a book I recently read was pushing "exercising your brain" so I gave this puzzle book a try. It didn't make me a fan of puzzle books, but I don't think I was the intended target audience. I found some of the puzzle very easy--even ones that were supposed to be hard. I found some easy puzzles difficult simply because I didn't know the required trivia or because I found the instructions too vague. Some puzzle were "just right" and very fun. People who love puzzle books might enjoy the variety of different puzzles found in this one.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

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Fluent Forever
by Gabriel Wyner

ISBN-13: 9780385348119
Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Harmony
Released: August 5, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
For those who’ve despaired of ever learning a foreign language, here, finally, is a book that will make the words stick.

The greatest challenge to learning a foreign language is the challenge of memory; there are just too many words and too many rules. For every new word we learn, we seem to forget two old ones, and as a result, fluency can seem out of reach. Fluent Forever tackles this challenge head-on. With empathy for the language-challenged and abundant humor, Wyner deconstructs the learning process, revealing how to build a foreign language in your mind from the ground up.

Starting with pronunciation, you’ll learn how to rewire your ears and turn foreign sounds into familiar sounds. You'll retrain your tongue to produce those sounds accurately, using tricks from opera singers and actors. Next, you'll begin to tackle words, and connect sounds and spellings to imagery, rather than translations, which will enable you to think in a foreign language. And with the help of sophisticated spaced-repetition techniques, you'll be able to memorize hundreds of words a month in minutes every day. Soon, you'll gain the ability to learn grammar and more difficult abstract words--without the tedious drills and exercises of language classes and grammar books.

My Review:
Fluent Forever is a book on how people make lasting memories and how to use that information to quickly learn (and remember) the language of your choice. Don't throw out those grammar books and pronunciation guides, but put them to better work by using the latest research into how we make memories and how to make them endure. The research information can be used to remember anything more easily.

The rest of the book discussed how to apply the research to learning languages quickly: remembering new words and even grammar rules without getting bored or confused, how to learn words with a local (rather than American) accent, and how to become fluent in that language.

The author has a nice sense of humor and such an enthusiasm for the subject that reading the book was a lot of fun as well as interesting. Also, he pointed out free online tools (or alternative offline methods) to help you learn your chosen language effectively and then teaches you how to use those tools. It was very easy for me to understand and follow his instructions.

I learned Spanish back in high school and periodically try to re-learn it. It's probably been a good refresher exercise, but I usually get bored with it and so leave off when I get busy with other things. I've started following his system to (re)learn Spanish, and it's a lot more fun than other methods I've tried. It's designed to be fun. I'm also remembering things a lot better, which encourages me to stick with it. If you're serious about wanting to learn a new language, I'd highly recommend this excellent resource.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.